Simryn Gill

Simryn Gill, Garland, 2006

Simryn Gill, Garland, 2006

Simryn Gill's (b.1959, Singapore) art is about collecting, archiving, classifying... but she works in the way suggested by Borges’ Chinese encyclopaedia: she defines items in a different way, creating new, unexpected relations. Gill troubles our comfortable dwelling in established meanings. If collections and archives aim to preserve information, she uses compilation and documentation procedures to destabilise acquired knowledge by inventing new ways of understanding the hybrid dynamics of these changing times.

On the one hand, her art deals with banal objects and situations, creating a ‘grammar of things’, as Lee Weng-Choy has put it. On the other hand, she articulates critical reflections on contemporary problems by using the very environments in which our daily life happens, thus giving her statements a vital fibre. Directness, subtlety and humour are combined in an art that becomes poetic through objectivity.

Simryn Gill is fascinated by the human impulse to create systems through which the world may be controlled, ordered and understood. Gill’s work for International 06 entitled Garland (1993-2006) presented us with a collection to be organised consisting of hundreds of objects the artist picked up from the beaches of Malaysia and the islands off Singapore, seen against the backdrop of the Mersey. As we sifted through the objects we begin to re-order them according to our own ways of thinking or seeing; to recall personal experiences, perhaps, of beach-combing, and to muse on the journey through time and space the objects have made, and the changes they have undergone along the way.

These objects were brought together and categorised collectively as an artwork – a status achieved only by displacing the collection from its original context. The materials were presented on a table surrounded by stools on which the viewer sits. Individually the objects demanded a peculiar kind of categorisation: deeply worn by wind and sea, they can seldom be defined by their original state or function. The human-made and the natural have become interchangeable.

Despite the largeness of the collection, the individual forms were all selected in their own right – colour, shape or texture singling something out for the artist’s pocket. Personal experiences on the beach are recalled as we sift through pebbles and smoothed glass and begin to categorise and order them – which, of course, we do according to our own experience. Yet our own histories are not the only ones evoked. Collected by Gill, and travelling from south to north, the objects have made shifts in place, time and identity far beyond geography. They exist as residues: but of what else, and where else?

Simryn Gill at Liverpool Biennial 2006 

Garland, 1993-2006

Dimensions variable
Courtesy Albion Barn, London
Exhibited at Tate Liverpool

Supported by

Richard Lau 
Anthony Parkes
Sigurd Pedersen 
Glenn Pereyra